Brendan Hyland back in fast lane for Tokyo Olympics bid

by Stephen Findlater

Brendan Hyland is one of the recipients of the FBD Make A Difference programme, in conjunction the Olympic Federation of Ireland. This fund will assist Olympic hopefuls in their preparation for the Olympic Games. Picture: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Seven hundredths of a second, 0.07. Barely a fingertip in it, he could almost feel it. But for over 20 months, that has been the gap between Brendan Hyland and his grasp of a ticket to the Olympic Games. 

When he pulled out all the stops to finish 11th in the 200m butterfly at Gwangju’s 2019 World Championships, little did the Balrothery man think it would be so long before he would have the chance to wait. 

But, by quirk of fate, the recent realignment of Swim Ireland and FINA’s qualification criteria could play into his hands with extra openings to reel in that elusive 0.07. 

It offers three potential routes for Hyland to secure a place at the Games – April’s Irish Open, with the relay team via May’s European Championships in Budapest or through a possible additional meet in June. 

Not that the Tallaght Swimming Club man – who is now based at the National Sports Campus – wants to take up too many of those chances. 

“If anything, it offers a couple more chances to make the time but I really do just plan on nailing it there and then in April,” he told the Dublin Gazette. “I have been gearing up for it since summer 2019 so I will be more than ready for this year!” 

Indeed, those Irish trials could well play into his hands, offering up to three shots at making the time in his preferred event with quarter-final, semi and final, all of which he could make his eligible time.  

Regular galas see morning and evening sessions with two races a day with most building up speed through the competition but these Irish trials could see things split more favourably for going quick each time.

“Traditionally at nationals, you have heats in the morning and generally, you are not as quick in the morning because there isn’t as strong a race. At international level, you can pull it out of the bag in the morning because it’s a world class race but usually heats are about getting the job done.  

“But we could spread the rounds over two nights and it is exciting to see what you can do with another night’s rest because you might only have something small to work on [to improve between rounds]. 

“I will probably try and smash it on the first night and then, as my coach [Ben Higson] says, I don’t even have to swim the other rounds and can focus on other events.” 

Departure lounge

Chomping at the bit, it feels like finally getting out of the departure lounge. Literally so. He was waiting on a flight to Edinburgh for a key training camp last March when lockdown came to ground his ambitions. 

It led to a rollercoaster year of with his competitive spirit left with no outlet. 

“I do feel everything happens for a reason. That was three weeks from the Olympic trials and I was hyped up and ready. When we did find out it was cancelled, we trained for about 10 days after but, honestly, I have never felt such a mood swing drop.  

“I never show up late but one morning, I slept in for an hour. I said to my coach ‘I’m really not bothered’. He knew. I’m 25 so he wasn’t going to give out to me; we were just honest, knowing there was nothing happening for the foreseeable future.” 

There were Zoom sessions but, with no fixed point to train for, his heart was not in it as he found himself more often than not “hopping on the Playstation”. 

“It wouldn’t be human to be super-motivated when there is so much uncertainty. I was happy when we came back in the summer, having something to do, but I did wonder what are we training for?” 

In-house trials last August produced middling results. They might have had an impact on his ability to get picked up by a team in the newly former International Swimming League but it did give him the jolt required to get back into action. 

“To just train for time trials, I wasn’t up for it. It took until August and I was probably the worst out of our training group. I was given two weeks off and it was then it clicked for me.  

“I thought ‘this is an opportunity and it’s going to pass by’. All I was thinking back to was that last swim, 11th at the world championships.  

“It was unbelievable and as big as I ever expected that summer, but I was still 0.07 off the qualifying time. I knew it wouldn’t be easy but I kicked myself into shape.  

“Since September, my head space has been really good. I have done the best block [of training] since I was 17. Sometimes it takes something like that to get the hunger going again. All of my mates had gone off to Australia, too, at the end of 2019 so I took it as an opportunity, no distractions here in Dublin and super-motivated to go for what could, possibly, be one last go.  

“I’m 26 and the Olympics has always been my dream. I just want to give it everything I can because you don’t know, it could be the last chance.”  

He duly broke the Irish 100m butterfly record in December, a race “behind closed doors” which also gave him a good taste of what it is like to compete without being able to feed off a crowd. 

“It took me a while to convince myself – in my mindset – that there was a crowd. You try to imagine it, like what it was like from the World Championships with 20,000 people in the stands.  

“I will have to get that right because, realistically, there isn’t going to be anyone in the building in April and I will have to do the best swim of my life.  

“December surprised me when I touched the wall. It was a really good race in the 100m even though there was only 30 people in the whole building, a couple of cheers made it and when I saw the record, I thought this was deadly.  

“It felt like I had been starved of that adrenaline. That gave me encouragement to go full steam ahead and I really do plan on doing something special.”

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